Six models of advertising

Paul Feldwick

All theories of how advertising works have their uses – but individually all are dangerous if they are taken too literally as the truth. This article summarises six main theories and shows how an understanding of them can help deliver better advertising campaigns.

As anyone who has been involved in advertising will probably know, the question 'How does advertising work?' has never had an easy or even an adequate answer. Yet it's a question with some very practical consequences, and possibly some ethical ones too. Does it matter if advertising is remembered, or whether it is liked? Does a successful ad transmit a message, a proposition, or a benefit? Does it work subconsciously, through imagery or symbolism, or through the emotions? Or is it, after all, just a simple matter of fame, 'keeping your name before the public' as one early practitioner claimed? The ways we deal with advertising, whether as practitioners or as a society, can't help assuming certain answers to such questions. And yet, despite a huge and frequently confusing body of research on the subject, the questions remain problematic.